Cambodia, European Union Wrap Up Bilateral Talks in Brussels

Cambodia and the European Union brought to a close their eighth joint committee meeting in Brussels on Thursday after a “frank and in-depth” discussion on everything from trade and aid to the latest political developments in Cambodia, according to a joint statement.

The brief statement talks of the strong relations between the two sides but goes into no details about what was said. The meeting comes at a time when Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has come under widespread international rebuke for the conduct of last year’s national election, using lethal force to put down a garment workers’ strike for higher wages in January, and imposing an unconstitutional ban on demonstrations.

With the Cambodian opposition refusing to take its parliamentary seats in protest, and its negotiations with the ruling CPP to settle the stalemate on the verge of collapse, the country is facing its starkest political crisis in decades.

The Cambodian and E.U. sides “exchanged views on Cambodia’s reform agenda and priorities in the post-electoral context, emphasizing reforms in the election process, governance and the respect for human rights as key drivers for Cambodia’s democratic development. Land management was also high on the agenda,” according to the E.U. statement.

In Phnom Penh, the E.U. is currently trying to convince the Cambodian government to help thousands of families that have had their homes and farms seized by sugar plantations that export sugar to Europe duty free. Affected families and local rights groups want the E.U. to suspend those trade benefits, which fall under the E.U.’s Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme.

According to the statement out of Brussels, the two sides discussed EBA and “agreed to continue working together toward improving Cambodia’s business and investment climate.”

It says the E.U. has become the primary destination for Cambodian exports and that the bloc is now Cambodia’s largest aid donor, with $210 million dispersed in 2012.

On Monday, the first day of the joint committee meeting, about 100 Cambodian expatriates from across Europe protested outside the E.U. council offices in Brussels to demand an end to European aid to Mr. Hun Sen’s government and called on the prime minister to resign.

The joint committee meeting was headed by Ouch Borith, a secretary of state at Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, and Ugo Astuto, director of South and Southeast Asia at the European External Action Service.

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